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'Combustible' Wins Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize

The short film "Combustible," by Otomo Katsuhiro, wins the Grand Prize for animation at the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival.

Winners have been announced for the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival, with the short film Combustible, by Otomo Katsuhiro, receiving the Grand Prize award in the Animation division. The Japan Media Arts Festival honors works of excellence in a diverse range of media – from animation and manga to games and media art. The festival is a comprehensive Media Arts event, providing an opportunity to appreciate outstanding works from all these categories.

This year, a record number of 3,503 works had been submitted for the festival, including 1,502 works from 71 countries and regions around the world. More applications had been submitted for this, the 16th festival, than in any year since its inception in 1997. Through an exhaustive, impartial and objective screening process, winners of one Grand Prize, four Excellence Awards and three New Face Awards have been chosen in each of the four divisions (Art, Entertainment, Animation and Manga).

Set in mid-18th-century Edo (the old name for Tokyo), Combustible centers on Owaka, a merchant’s daughter, and her childhood friend Matsuyoshi. Though the two are attracted to each other, Matsuyoshi’s family has disowned him, forcing him to make a living as a fireman. But just as their relationship is starting to bloom, Owaka’s family begins to move forward with plans to find her a husband. Unable to forget Matsuyoshi, in a fit of crazed passion Owaka causes a huge fire to break out, burning down the town. The two lovers happen to cross paths again in the midst of this blaze.

The backdrop for this spectacle is one of the great fires that frequently occurred in the metropolis of Edo. Using traditional Nihonga (Japanese-style) paintings as a motif for the animated images, the work meticulously recreates the manners, implements, and lifestyle of Tokyoites some 300 years ago. In addition, by combining hand-drawn animation with 3D computer graphics, the creators have sought to develop an innovative form of expression through moving images.

A picture scroll unravels to the accompaniment of a firefighter’s work song from the Edo era. And along with the title, the following words appear on the screen: “A moving color-print play.” Sounds exciting! The panoramic scenes of the Okawabata, a basin of the Sumida River, are reminiscent of Utagawa Hiroshige and Keisai Eisen’s landscape prints, and drift by in the same direction as the unfurled picture scroll, moving from Ryogoku Bridge to Kanda Nishiki-cho. Gradually, the focus narrows to a boy and girl playing in the garden of a large store. It is a scene with the beauty of one of Hishikawa Moronobu’s ukiyo-e prints. The quiet, exceptionally beautiful pictures fill us with anticipation as we await the tale of passionate desire that is about to unfold. Then the view suddenly switches back to the rear, and we realize that we are looking through the camera’s eye.

The fictional story, inspired by incidents such as the Great Fire of Meireiki (also known as the Furisode or Long-Sleeved Kimono Fire) and the Great Fire of Greengrocer Oshichi, is depicted in an ornate and dramatic manner. There has never been a work that was better suited to the 16:9 aspect ratio. It creates a special sense of excitement, allowing us to vicariously experience the spectacular pictures in these old dioramas as if we were watching a kabuki play from the front row on the second floor of a theater. Hinoyojin is a uniquely Japanese animated work.

Born in 1954 in Miyagi Prefecture, Otomo Katsuhiro made his debut as a manga artist in 1973. His works include the 1983 manga Domu: A Child’s Dream and Akira. He later directed an animated film version of Akira as well as other animated features such as Memories and Steamboy.

Source: Japan Media Arts Festival

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